Regulated rail fares are set to rise by 1.9% in January 2017, following the announcement of the Retail Price Index figure on August 16. The Government has committed to restraining regulated fare increases to the official level of inflation.
But the announcement drew a critical reaction from Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald, who said: “Today’s announcement will heap more misery on UK commuters who already pay the highest fares in Europe for the overcrowded carriages and unreliable services that increasingly characterise our network.
“Passengers are told that higher fares are necessary to fund investment, but vital projects have been delayed by years and essential maintenance works have been put on hold. Money that could be used to keep fares down or reinvested to improve our services is instead subsidising the profits of private companies and other nation’s railway systems. It’s a scandal.
“As we have seen with the Southern Rail debacle, ministers are clinging to a failed model for purely ideological reasons - and commuters are being made to pay the price.”
Transport Focus research has found that while Britain has relatively high fares for some types of journey it also has some of the lowest for long-distance journeys.
But Rail Delivery Group Chief Executive Paul Plummer argued that fares increases are necessary to secure future investment.
“Nobody wants to pay more to travel to work, and at the moment in some areas people aren’t getting the service they are paying for, and we know how frustrating that is,” he said.
“But increases to season tickets are set by government. For every pound paid in fares, 97p goes back into running and improving services and it’s our job to make sure that money is spent well.
“We need to sustain investment to build a modern railway, and money from fares helps us to do this, which is crucial with rail now more important to our nation’s prosperity than at any time since the Victorian era. In many places our railway is full, with passenger numbers having doubled in two decades, and we know passengers and the country need better services.”
Transport Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith said that many commuters, particularly those in London and the South East, will feel that any fare rise will feel “unfair”.
He called on the Government to freeze fare increases for Southern passengers, adding: “Passengers are playing their part by pouring over £9 billion into the industry each year. The industry must now deliver on its promises of much more consistent, better performance.”
Smith also questioned why the Government uses the Retail Price Index as its inflation measure when many wages are linked to the Consumer Price Index, which has a lower figure of 0.6%. “It’s time for government to rethink the way it calculates fares,” he said.
Consumer watchdog Which? called for the Government to introduce a “new mandatory ombudsman” to ensure passenger complaints are “properly heard”, and for better compensation.
Director of Policy and Campaigns Alex Neill said: “It’s little wonder that trust in train companies is falling when passengers face cancellations, delays and disruption, yet see fares continue to rise.”
- For more on fares, and Southern, read RAIL 808, published on August 31.